If courts won't listen to dads,
will dads listen to courts?
Some say angry fathers turning to radical activity
by Clair Wiederholt
Shortly after the August-September edition of Today's Dads came
out, I had a conversation with a Wisconsin circuit court judge
who said he was offended by Jim Novak's "Getting in their face"
article. Mr. Novak had suggested we publicly confront those
judges who have taken our kids from our lives under the
prevailing "mother is best for the kids, dad is dispensable"
Many of us have worked doggedly within the system for over 10
years, have seen zip for our efforts, and are frustrated. Mr.
Novak spent a day a month over several years attending the
Supreme Court's Equal Justice Task Force committee meetings,
prepared an extensive minority report, and testified before the
Supreme Court. The results for his efforts were virtually
nothing. The Final Report of that committee made only a couple
recommendations addressing father's and men's concerns while
making dozens addressing mother's and women's concerns.
Another WFEJ officer, Bill Fetzner, served on the Legislative
Joint Special Committee on Child Custody, Support and Visitation
Laws, hoping for the creation of more equitable custody and
placement laws. He, too, was rudely disappointed. While some
committee members were sensitive to our concerns, the majority of
this committee was openly disdainful of fathers and their efforts
to have their children in their lives. The result was numerous
proposals to tighten child support enforcement and barely a
single proposal that would increase a man's likelihood of staying
a father after divorce.
Last September, many WFEJ members and nearly 100 men and women
from around the state testified at a Department of Health and
Social Services Committee on revising HSS80, the guidelines that
determine child support payments in Wisconsin. We were strong,
unified and clear in our messages. Both parents should be
obligated to financially provide for their child. Child support
should decrease when dad has his child more of the time. Child
support amounts should reflect the actual costs of rearing a
child, not be disguised alimony.
The Department of Health and Social Services Committee, which is
responsible for the funneling of some $385 million annually from
mainly men to mainly women, ignored us, dismissed us. By the way,
the committee was composed completely of women-not even a token
male was on this committee. DHSS women ignoring us and deciding
themselves how nearly $385 million of our male earnings would be
Many of us have worked patiently within the court system, naively
believing the legal system values fathering and metes out justice
fairly. I have spent the last 10 years working within the court
system only to see the courts allow my ex-wife to move my
children 130 miles away from me and then allow her to repeatedly
violate placement orders while only gently asking her not to do
it again. When I attempted to increase my time with my children,
the court reduced it to two, 28-hour periods per month. (This is
no typo - yes, just 2 days a month). When I appealed this decision,
the District II Court of Appeals said two, 28-hour periods of
placement per month is a reasonable amount of time for my
children to be parented by me.
Some of us are fortunate to have our children with us significant
amounts of time but are still obligated to pay full child
support, or once the placement approaches 50%, obtain only token
reductions in child support. Some of us earn less than $20,000
per year and are still obligated to pay the full child support
percentage to ex-wives who make more than $40,000 per year and
are remarried to men earning $60,000 or more. Steak at mom's
house; peanut butter sandwiches at dad's.
All of us recognize that before our divorce, we did not spend
17%, 25% or 29% of our gross incomes on our children. We know
there is minimal connection between child support payments and
what it actually costs to rear a child. We see our ex-wives
refusing to obtain employment, using the child support to cover
her personal expenses. Some of us see an unemployed new boyfriend
living with our ex-wives and wonder who is really covering his
We have seen our children stripped from us, our wallets drained,
and we're mad, both for our sake and, more importantly, for the
sake of our child. We're men, not castratees. We were socialized
to be our children's protectors and their source of guidance and
strength, not to walk meekly away at the word of someone who
claims to have more authority with our children than we do. How
is it that judges who never gave fit dads their children come to
take them away?
Hey, we have tried to work within the system and it hasn't
worked. We've had roadblocks at each turn. Modern history shows
us that oppressed groups who are not heeded within the system
start working outside it. Many Wisconsin fathers are at that
juncture in the road.
Given the legal system's refusal to respond to our pleas and let
us be fathers, I believe more radical activity is inevitable.
Already I have had an irate father whose children were stripped
from him by the courts propose to me that we organize a single
day when fathers find those child-stealing judges and "blow 'em
away." WFEJ president Jim Novak, who answers our ALL-DADS
telephone number, tells me he receives about half a dozen calls a
year from recently "de-childed" men suggesting the same sort of
That's scary stuff. I hope Wisconsin fathers never resort to
violence and Mr. Novak and I do all we can to prevent it. But we
have learned time and time again that extreme frustration is
frequently vented in outlaw activity.
Wisconsin needs to give fathers hope, not more disappointment.
When Wisconsin comes to respect fathers, listen to their
concerns, and creates public policy giving them a full parenting
role equal to that of mothers, calls for "getting in their face"
and violence will end.
Postscript: My wife read a draft of the above and noted a tone of
anger. We have a right to be angry. In fact, I'm proud dads
stripped of their kids are angry. Our anger shows we care, that
we recognize both the needs of our kids and that we are being
cheated. If fathers were complacent and apathetic about the loss
of their children, then I'd be worried. A society with apathetic
fathers is a diseased society.
Published in Today's Dads October, 1995, page 1.